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This review is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

Cover of Decade of Cuts
Greg ThomasHis Vorpal Blade
Decade of Cuts, Nicky Melville (Blue Diode) £12
Nicky Melville’s Decade of Cuts is a collection of new and selected poems showcasing ten years of practice at the fringes of experimental poetics and agit-prop performance: a decade, too, of austerity-era conservative government (albeit recently mutated into a populist nostalgia cult) when cuts were the order of the day. The potty-mouthed pun – also published as a poem-badge – in Melville’s title gets across something of both his animus and working method.

An obvious point of analogy for some of Melville’s poetry is that of his erstwhile mentor Tom Leonard, which found space on the page for forms of everyday language previously excluded from literature – indeed, whose quality of artistic and political legitimacy seemed somehow rooted in its defiant (and only apparent) non-literariness. Melville’s ‘heavy debate,’ culled from conversations with a young offender during the poet’s time working at HMYOI Polmont, even gestures towards the jazzily aestheticised demotics of Leonard’s early verse: ‘ma language is fucked up.’ But it’s notable that across this collection that form of phonetic exuberance is in relatively short supply.

Here’s the distinction, perhaps: Leonard, at least in his early poetry, was known for committing to paper an approximation of language originating in an oral/aural domain: ‘in the beginning was the sound.’ Melville is more likely to start with the visual rather than sonic substance of language. His schooling in the concrete poetry movement of the 1960s is evident in a selection of ‘thought experiments’ – one or two-word poems with footnoted title – which adopt (and ...

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